Stung by the threat of a pullout by blow hot-blow cold ally Mamata Banerjee over Thursday’s hike in petrol prices, the government has executed a double-edged strategy.
Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee defended the hike in Banerjee’s fief Kolkata, saying it was essential and also said, without naming her, that she was part of the decision to decontrol petrol prices.
In an apparent effort to placate Banerjee and to ease the pressure, he also said the Trinamool Congress’ decision to meet the prime minister once he returned from Cannes was "a very correct decision for a political party in a democracy".
In New Delhi though, the government went fully on the offensive against the West Bengal chief minister. While hinting that there would be no rollback of the hike despite Banerjee’s threat and pressure from other allies, sources in the government attacked the Trinamool leader.
The sources pointed out that Banerjee herself was part of the decision to deregulate petrol prices in a meeting of an empowered group of ministers. “She didn’t attend the meeting but her consent had been taken,” a cabinet minister said.
Banerjee was criticised earlier for regularly missing important cabinet meetings as railway minister, preferring to spend her time on the politics of West Bengal in the run-up to the assembly elections that she ultimately swept.
The cabinet minister also pointed out that Banerjee stayed on in the cabinet after the decision to decontrol petrol prices was taken. “She is a compulsive populist. When we have alliance (sic) like them, we don’t need the Opposition BJP,” he said. “If she is that concerned, why not reduce sales tax (on petrol) in West Bengal to Delhi levels?”
The government sources also said that sometimes, unpopular decisions have to be taken. “It is not that the government is running for the Nobel prize for unpopularity. The government does unpopular things only when it becomes inevitable.”